Who Cares About Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

First, Master P, the comparisons to Tiger and LeBron overstate Junior's travails, and the size of his Michigan win. LeBron needs a championship to prove he is among the best of his era. "Little E" isn't the dominant racer of his era like his daddy was, but he's more than proved he can play with the big boys. Earnhardt Jr. already has NASCAR's biggest prize: winning a Daytona 500 in 2004.

Comparisons to Tiger Woods are a bit more apt, as both stopped winning in 2008. But Tiger's game has been a virtual wreck along the way. Junior has avoided wrecks—the real kind—quite well. He didn't win for a while. But, in a sport that rewards consistency over a 36-week grind, he drove well enough for the "losing" to include two berths in NASCAR's postseason Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Still, that doesn't explain how you, and all your purportedly sports-savvy friends didn't know about about the streak. Explaining that, or at least trying, would require a ridiculously broad generalization. Despite the risk of sounding like Burt Reynolds schooling Sally Field on Southern culture in Smokey and the Bandit, that's a generalization I'm willing to make.

Blame college. Most working sportswriters and broadcasters have college degrees. That's simply because most media outlets prefer to hire people who have them. So all your sports media types, on- and off-air, learn their trades where stick-and-ball sports rule and racing is nonexistent. How many colleges have you ever seen, after all, with a speedway on campus?

NASCAR is more working class. There are exceptions. Driver Ryan Newman graduated from Notre Dame. Darian Grubb, Tony Stewart's crew chief, holds an engineering degree from Virginia Tech. He's the new breed. Still, most who succeed in the sport do so because they spend their lives behind a steering wheel or under a chassis. Like Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief, Steve Latarte. He started by sweeping floors for Hendrick Motorsports at 15.

But let's be real. About half of this country has a strong cultural bias against NASCAR. The sport is loud, gaudy, aggressively patriotic, overwhelmingly white, male, and Christian with working-class, rural Southern roots , and—oh, yeah—is built around adoration of the internal combustion engine. In short, NASCAR is everything that blue states hate about red ones. A certain class of urbanite snob will even use the phrase "NASCAR fan" as an insult meaning something along the lines of "stupid redneck," in the same way they might use "Wal-Mart shoppers" as a slang for "poor, overweight, and unfashionably dressed."

That's not a racing thing. No one talks that way about fans of, say, IndyCar or MotoGP. Only NASCAR gets that kind of scorn.

Jake, my sense is that the cultural biases play a huge role in shaping how NASCAR gets covered, and so explaining Patrick's knowledge gap. Am I wrong? Or doesn't it seem like people slam the sport for reasons that have nothing to do with what happens on the track?

–Hampton

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Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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